Will BJ Penn be remembered as one of (Mixed Martial Arts) MMA’s all time greats?
Heading into his second meeting with Frankie Edgar at UFC 118, fans and critics anticipated a more focused, more aggressive B.J. Penn to step into the cage. They believed this fight would be a perfect storm of Edgar fighting a strategic battle on a night that Penn looked off, and that B.J. Penn, the man widely considered the greatest lightweight of all-time, would show the skills that earned him that distinction in the first place.
Penn did not look like the fighter who dominated Diego Sanchez. Glossed over and searching for answers, Penn was once again beaten to the punch, taken down, and dominated en route to his second consecutive loss to the new ruler of the UFC lightweight division: Frankie Edgar.
After years of being recognized as one of the greatest fighters in UFC and MMA, B.J. Penn’s legacy as a fighter is being called into question. While it is impossible to question his gifts, the results on Penn’s resumes are now being put under the microscope, with a notion that was once universally accepted being examined in a new light. Once unchallenged as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters the sport has ever seen, many are wondering if “The Prodigy” has become a case study in what could have been.
BJ Penn has always earned a free pass for his shortcomings.
Where other fighters are chided for offering excuses and explanations of losses, Penn’s list of ailment, accusations, and reasons for losing have been accepted. In the past, when he said he was unfocused and would be better next time he stepped into the octagon, people believed him. That well has all but dried up following his second-straight defeat to Edgar. BJ Penn’s training, team, and overall achievements are coming under intense scrutiny, and understandably so.
While some fighters work every day to validate being heralded as one of the sport’s best, BJ Penn has been content to accept praise and continue doing business as usual in Hilo, surrounded by coaches and trainers who agreed with the assessments of their fighter while never asking him to back up the assessment in his training or fights.
Penn is undeniably one of the most naturally-talented men to step into the cage and the UFC. He’s one of the best boxers in the sport. His Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is legitimately the stuff of legends. And his flexibility, balance, and all-around skills are the envy of fighters who work twice as hard for twice as long. His nickname is truly fitting, but “The Prodigy” could have been even better.
“What if?” will be a question that follows BJ Penn around from here on out.
- What if BJ Penn trained the way his arch enemy Georges St-Pierre (GSP) trains?
- What if BJ Penn surrounded himself with a team that pushed him, instead of showering him with praise and letting him coast on his natural skills?
- What if the media stopped buying into (and selling) the hype sooner?
- What if people started asking questions after BJ Penn’s second loss to St-Pierre or even his first loss to Frankie Edgar?
Penn now has to answer some of those “what ifs?” moving forward. Where people were once quick to give “The Prodigy” the room to excuse his losses and believe a better performance would follow, those allowances no longer exist. His next fight, wherever it may come and regardless of who it is against, needs to be an impressive one or else the questions will only get louder.
Penn has always spoken about his legacy and his destiny to be one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen. Now, he has to show that he truly cares about his legacy; that he really wants to become the fighter he has always been purported to be.
He needs to make changes; changes to where he prepares for his fights, a change to the group that helps him prepare for those bouts, changes to the way he approaches everything about his career.
Excuses and promises of a better performance next time will no longer cut it. His standing in the sport has shifted and his legacy that was once etched in stone is now written in pencil, able to be erased and rewritten as dictated by his future performances.
It’s not that he was always overrated or has suddenly become any less a talent in the octagon. Years of coasting by on his natural gifts have simply caught up to B.J. Penn.
The gifts are there and the opportunity to earn the legacy once handed to him still exists, only now, it all rests on Penn’s shoulders.
No one will pre-write his place in history anymore. If he wants to go down as one of the all-time greats, Penn is going to have to earn it.
Can an incredibly talented fighter who has never had to put in the hard work it takes to be great change his approach to become the fighter people always told him he was?
BJ Penn will have to, or else instead of going down in history as one of the greatest fighters ever, he’ll be remembered as a great fighter who could have been so much more.